King Midget Jamboree
by Steven Chupnick
Demands for better fuel economy are forcing automakers, and consumers, to once again consider small cars. But it was in 1946 when a true miniature car was born-the King Midget. Nothing is as small and street legal as the king of all the minis. And for sixty five years, fans and drivers have been captivated by the king midget. And there's no better way to celebrate the car than at the King Midget jamboree and the home of the Ringling brother's Circus, Delavan, Wisconsin.
Built by two World War Two veterans, Claude Dry and Dale Orcutt, the King Midget was a marvel of its time. And while it might look like a clown car, the story of its existence is anything but funny.
The King Midget was once the world's lowest priced car, at around $500. Still, only 5000 were built at the plant in Athens, Ohio. The King Midget was American entrepreneurship at its best. The two-gear Midget was assembled on a shoestring budget. Dry and Orcutt made their money selling used parts in the back of magazines.
Bob Vahsholtz is an expert when it comes to the King Midget. It's his passion making sure the memories of Orcutt and Dry stay alive.
BOB VAHSHOLTZ: You know we call ourselves a car club, but we're not a car club - we're a people club. And that's true. The people who own these cars have become friends, we all share this interest and they're just a great bunch of people.
With only about 1000 King Midgets still around, the King Midget jamboree brings newcomers to marvel at the car. Tim Smyth and his wife, Sandi, were the hosts of this year's jamboree. Tim had the honor of leading the pack of King Midget owners in and around the town of Delavan and Lake Geneva. His love of the King Midget started as a kid.
TIM SMYTH: My dad took it on a trade in 1964; it was in the local area, the guy bought it from King Midget in 1960. And he was only going to keep it for a couple months, but he made the mistake of bringing it home.
This car is a true family affair. Nicholas Barbour married into the King Midget brood and now his King Midget has become one of his most prized possessions.
NICHOLAS BARBOUR: My wife, Kimberly-her dad has a King Midget, and he's here with us today. And her grandfather also has a King Midget. And it sparked my interest, so I started looking on the internet.
Only 9 horsepower and maybe 35 or 40 miles an hour tops in these things, but when you own one, it really doesn't matter how fast you go. Midget motors built 3 different versions of the car - the first, a single passenger. Models two and three have room for two. It's rare to find any model 1's left, so Scott Olean built a near exact replica. And not every midget is stock and original inside – some have modified engines as well.
Jack Bielefeld took his one-cylinder Wisconsin out and replaced it with a Kawasaki Ninja 250 motorcycle engine.
JACK BIELEFELD: It just runs sweet, you know; you can't hardly beat it. I had to get away from the comet clutches, automatic two-speed system in there, cause you can't keep upright. It's slow, noisy and this is like a million dollar engine in a 50-cent car.
American built and owned - the King Midget is America's smallest dream car come true.